Guest Commentary

Look to the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and speak out

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. giving a speech in an undated photo.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. giving a speech in an undated photo. The Associated Press

Today presents an interesting juxtaposition of events. We honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and in just four days, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.

Given some of the president-elect’s selections to serve as the heads of the departments of Education and Defense, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, many Americans are concerned with what could happen. But as with any president, we will only know how effective he has been after the fact.

In the meantime, it is incumbent on the citizenry to help support and promote our democracy.

Many people are worried. Many don’t know how to handle what they view as an administration that will not be good for our country.

A good way to predict the future is to look at the past. For my fellow citizens who don’t know what to do, let me suggest you read King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written April 16, 1963.

The letter will offer some thoughts and suggestions as to why you need to speak out. King points out that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Speaking out against injustice is important. It’s famously been said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Your voice matters.

Years ago, I read a quote attributed to Rabbi Leo Baeck. He ministered to people in the Theresienstadt concentration camp in World War II. Even though he had the opportunity to be freed, he chose to remain in the camp.

When reflecting on how injustice and persecution happens, one rabbi said, “A person is known not only for what they do but also for what they behold in silence.”

A recent example of voices making a difference: Just two weeks ago, House Republicans voted to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics. In the end, they reversed themselves. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, a Democrat, said lawmakers had received an avalanche of phone calls from voters chastising them for the action.

Yes, it is important for you to express your opinion to your elected officials. Write, email or call your representatives and senators. Your voice matters.

You might also write a letter to the editor. Expressing your point of view touches many readers. Remember that policymakers read the letters to the editor to get a sense of what constituents think about timely issues.

Reporters and columnists need your support as well. If you read an article that captures your point of view, write, email or call the reporter or columnist to say thanks. It seems the president-elect does not appreciate criticism from the media. Your voice matters.

If you wear a safety pin to show others that you care about them and are supportive of their differences, great. I suggest you look at how your behavior has changed since you began wearing that pin.

Are you speaking the truth? Are you actively working to support people who are different from you?

If you would like the support of other like-minded people who are interested in speaking out about what they see as injustices, you can join groups like those that are going to march on Washington or others who will give you a larger pool of voices.

Whether it is the Affordable Care Act, tax reform, foreign policy, immigration, public education, or whatever, remember what King told us: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

Your voice is needed now more than ever. Call out injustice wherever you see it.

Your voice matters.

Jim Caccamo is a retired school administrator and former director of the Metropolitan Council on Early Learning at the Mid-America Regional Council.